The living come with grassy tread
To read the gravestones on the hill;
The graveyard draws the living still,
But never any more the dead.
The verses in it say and say:
‘The ones who living come today
To read the stones and go away
Tomorrow dead will come to stay.’
So sure of death the marbles rhyme,
Yet can’t help marking all the time
How no one dead will seem to come.
What is it men are shrinking from?
It would be easy to be clever
And tell the stones: Men hate to die
And have stopped dying now forever.
I think they would believe the lie.
When I was younger, my dad told me and one of my brothers about a game he and his sister played when they were kids. Every time they passed a graveyard, they had to hold their breath. The first one to breathe again was supposed to be the first to go in, I guess. I sort of wonder if their mom suggested the game to keep them quiet on car rides. Though I’ve long since stopped playing this game with my brother, I still tend to notice graveyards. I suppose the habit is still there. But now, I often take into account how old they are. How rough are the stones, which names can I still read, which grave is the oldest?
Some graveyards contain generations. I don’t just mean family names, but I can see the progress of age as the graveyard expanded. There was one by where we used to live where the stones closest to the road and the church across the street were nearly unreadable, but those yards in couldn’t be more than a decade old. Some graveyards I’ve seen are nearly abandoned, like the one behind a friend of mine’s house (whose mother made us see what names we could read for a scavenger hunt she was planning). Or the one I would see driving through the forested farmland of southern Michigan. It was so hidden by trees, you’d miss it if you weren’t looking for it. Those always made me the saddest to see. I couldn’t help but wonder as I looked whether anyone visited them any longer?
I know a number of people who walk through graveyards. I am not one of them. Something about stepping over graves just seems…wrong to me. Some do it with a morbid fascination (or perhaps all of them do). Some like to help others looking for answers about their past by filling in information on Find a Grave and such. But I think there is something about graveyards that hold everyone’s attention, even if we don’t walk through them (or hold our breath as we drive by).
Graveyards draw the living, even if no longer the dead, because they connect us to the past and keep in mind the future, which likely contains our death. Momento Mori is the phrase that comes to mind when we think of gravestones. We might ask God, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psa. 90:12) How quickly that earthly sleep finds us all. This time of year tends to remind us of death the most, save for Good Friday. Death, this unnatural unhallowed thing that haunts our life, suddenly forced to the forefront of our attention. During these days, we remember the saints who have died, some only in the recent past. Then we walk humbly into the darkening year. Perhaps this is ultimately why we wander graveyards in life.
Yet these gravestones hold no promise; they only tell of what came before. Of this we know: death is sure. But the living will never come to stay. These marble headstones are sure of death, yet their time is coming to a close. Yes, Frost is speaking of a graveyard no longer in use. He also hints at the fear most men have about death. But one day these graveyards will truly be disused. There will be no one dwelling in earthen beds, and no more will come to visit, least of all to stay. And while it is a clever thought to tell the stones we no longer like to die, in truth, one day we won’t die but will live forever with Him who died for us.
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig